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World Looks to Hawaii for Best View of Eclipse

April 21, 1991|JOHN McDERMOTT | McDermott is a Honolulu free-lance writer.

Hotel space is still available on the Big Island of Hawaii for prime viewing of the total eclipse, which will occur Thursday, July 11. The harder part will be securing airline reservations to the island, and ground transportation once there.

To review the facts: The moon will start to cover the sun at 6:30 a.m., and total eclipse will occur at 7:28 a.m. The totality will last 4 minutes and 13 seconds. By 8:37 a.m., the entire eclipse will be over. Not since 1973 has a solar eclipse of this duration occurred anywhere in the world.

The Kohala/Kona Coast is the focus of the action because it is there that the eclipse will last the longest, and the weather conditions could be ideal. Annual rainfall is 8.7 inches, and July is a dry month.

If there is a Kona storm and the sky is cloudy, the entire Kohala/Kona Chamber of Commerce has vowed to jump into a volcano fire pit. Several have been glowing at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island for the past eight years.

The reason for the excitement among locals is that the last total eclipse in Hawaii occurred in 1850, and the next one is not supposed to take place anywhere in the United States till 2017.

Scientifically, the intense interest will occur when the eclipse passes directly over the five Mauna Kea observatories. It will be the first time in eclipse history that the world will have such a close window to the phenomenon.

The moon's shadow will touch down just west of Hawaii and arc across the earth at more than 1,000 miles per hour, darkening a "path of totality" 100 miles wide.

Only the Big Island will experience the total eclipse, though other islands will share an important part of the experience . Maui will see 99% of the eclipse, Oahu will see 96.5% and Kauai 92%.

The Kohala Coast Resort Assn., in conjunction with the Kona/Kohala Chamber of Commerce, has established a Big Island Eclipse Information Center--(808) 329-8484; fax, (808) 329-5661--to supply the latest eclipse news.

So far, according to officials, phone calls from Europe have produced some rare requests. Such as:

"Where can I rent a ranch for my group of 400?"

"Who should I call to reserve 60 buses?" (All buses and rental cars are already reserved.)

"Is it possible to rent a helicopter to fly to the Mauna Kea Summit?" (Not only is the summit off limits, but the road to the summit will be closed for two days prior to the event.)

Contrary to earlier reports that all hotels were sold out, there are, in fact, hotel rooms to be had. Last week, for example, the Hyatt Regency Waikoloa still had 200 rooms available.

Getting to and around the Big Island is another story.

United Airlines Flight No. 199, from Los Angeles to Kona via Honolulu, has seats available on the L.A./Honolulu leg, though Honolulu-Kona is sold out for the week preceding the eclipse. Regularly scheduled flights from Honolulu to Kona on Aloha and Hawaiian Airlines are also solidly booked, although both inter-island carriers are wait-listing passengers in anticipation of adding extra sections.

All rental cars have been reserved.

At this point, the best bet may be buying one of the eclipse packages.

Big Island-based Momentum Travel has weeklong packages available that include a United flight from Los Angeles, departing July 6 or 7, a rental car for seven days and accommodations. Per-person rates are $1,465 for first-class hotels (the Kona Surf, Kona Hilton, King Kamehameha), $2,875 for the so-called five-star hotels (Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Mauna Lani Beach Hotel, Hyatt Regency Waikoloa.) One advantage of the latter category is that the hotels will provide ground transportation, for a fee, from the Kona airport.

For visitors with confirmed air/ground transportation, there are some intriguing options for viewing the eclipse.

Hawaiian Walkways' group of 25 hikers will set out on the morning of July 10 to explore the lava shores of the Kohala Coast, ending their tour at an isolated beach where guests will find tents, sleeping bags and a staff to prepare meals before and after witnessing the eclipse. Airport transfers are included in the $250-per-person package. A few spaces are still available.

Black Sun '91 offers a less physically demanding camping experience on beautiful Hapuna Beach, where campsites are being prepared for as many as 500 campers. Parking, showers, security and entertainment are included. Cost is $50 per campsite per day, one to four people per campsite.

You can also opt for watching the eclipse from a flotilla of boats plying the waters off the Kohala/Kona Coast--or from the clear depths beneath them.

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